Our days have been a bit more leisurely as we headed west to Thimphu and Paro. The drive kind of lulls the traveler to sleep and we made our way back from Trongsa on a much improved roadway.
We stopped for a bite at the Lobesa Café and Hotel, a wonderful spot run by a local family. We took in one last view of the Lobesa Valley and the Temple of the Divine Madman before heading into Thimphu.
At pretty much every waking hour, Thimphu is a bustle of activity. The cars crowd the narrow streets and people are, literally, everywhere. Into this crowd we headed to Hotel Osel, dropped our bags and headed out. Most of us headed to the Vegetable Market and the Crafts Market along the river. Since it was Sunday, many were off work, especially the Indian construction workers, and so we saw hundreds of these migrants carrying bags filled with all kinds of vegetables. The one we saw most was the Bitter Gourd, a kind of prickly green cucumber sized vegetable. The men were loaded down with these foods as they planned to head back to their various camps in Bhutan.
In fact, Bhutan runs on this immigrant labor. At every spot in the city and in the country, these workers are building roads, houses, buildings, and doing almost every kind of hard labor in the country. These folks cannot become citizens and are on a kind of guest worker program. They stay in very humble quarters, usually trap-covered structures scattered in the city and along the roadways. I had the chance to talk to a group of these folks and they expressed their luck at finding decent work. All send money back to family in India and they are from just about every part of the country. I asked about their families and many had children and partners bqck home. All hoped to finish work here in a few years and head back.
As we walked through this mass of humanity, every single one of us are struck by the smiles….as I mentioned before it’s hard to stop smiling here. People who are struggling smile, people who are well-positioned smile…it’s everywhere. As you walk through the markets and among the people in the city, people make eye contact and smile. So, it’s easy to think that those smiles are reserved for paying tourists, but you quickly realize and see that it is not about that at all. We witnessed a minor fender bender and people calmly got out of their vehicles, talked about what happened. The driver responsible claimed responsibility, numbers were exchanged and it was over. That small incident is indicative of Bhutan.
On the following day we headed to Paro, the place where the airport is and where we would hike to Taktshang, the Tiger’s Nest. On this drive to Paro, we headed up to Chele-la Pass the highest pass in the country at 4,000 meters. We went in search of the elusive Blue Poppy, a type of flower unique to this part of Bhutan. We hiked up about a ½ mile above tree line, finding the flowers…just a few, on the carpeted tundra flora.
We headed back to Paro and stayed in the really wonderful Hotel Olathong, the first hotel constructed for tourism in Bhutan. The grounds are beautiful and we stayed in little cottages scattered over the grounds. The rooms are rustic but very nice. A great place to rest and prepare for our hike tomorrow.